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The so-called colonels' ward was situated at the end
of the corridor on the second floor. Its windows faced
south and east, so that the sun shone in it all day, its
beams slowly crawling from one bed to another. It was
a small ward. Judging by the dark patches on the parquet
floor, there had formerly been only two beds here, two
bedside cupboards, and a round table in the middle. Now
there were four beds in the room. On one lay a wounded
man swathed in bandages, looking like a bundled-up new-
born infant. He lay on his back and through slits in his
bandages stared at the ceiling with vacant, motionless
eyes. On another bed, next to Alexei's, lay a man with a
wrinkled, pock-marked, soldierly face and thin, fair
moustaches, obliging, talkative and vivacious.
People in hospital soon make friends. By the evening
Alexei already knew that the pock-marked man was a
Siberian, chairman of a collective farm, a hunter, and in
the army a sniper, and a skilful sniper at that. Begin-
ning with the famous battles near Yelna, when he with his
Siberian Division, in which his two sons and son-in-law
also served, entered the fighting, he had "ticked off", as
he expressed it, seventy fascists. He was a Hero of the
Soviet Union, and when he told Alexei his name, Alexei
looked curiously at this homely figure. That name was
widely known in the army at the time, and the principal
newspapers had even written editorials about him. Every-
body in the hospital—the nurses, the house surgeon and
Vasily Vasilyevich himself—respectfully addressed him as
Stepan Ivanovich.
The fourth inmate of the ward, all in bandages, had
said nothing about himself the whole day; in fact, he had
not uttered a word. But Stepan Ivanovich, who knew
everything in the world, quietly told Meresyev his story.
His name was Grigory Gvozdev. He was a lieutenant in
the Tanks, and he too was a Hero of the Soviet Union.
He had graduated from the Tank School and had been in
the war from the very start. He had fought his first
engagement on the frontier, somewhere near the fortress
of Brest-Litovsk. In the famous tank battle near Byelostok
his tank was put out of action, but he at once got into